BEIRUT — Coalition troops in Iraq were slightly injured in a spate of drone strikes on US bases in Iraq over the past 24 hours, as regional tensions rose following the deadly bombing of a hospital in Gaza.
Two drones targeted a base in western Iraq used by U.S. forces and one drone targeted a base in northern Iraq. U.S. forces intercepted all three, destroying two but damaging only the third, leading to minor injuries among coalition troops at the western base, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command on Wednesday.
“At this moment of heightened alert, we are closely monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region. “U.S. forces will defend U.S. and coalition forces against any threat,” Central Command said in the release.
Iran-backed militias in Iraq have threatened to attack US facilities there because of US support for Israel.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iranian-backed militias, subsequently issued a statement claiming responsibility for the two attacks, saying it was “a harbinger of further operations” against the “American occupation.”
The volleys came at a time of rising tensions and fears of a larger regional conflict in the wake of the recent Hamas-Israel war.
Since the war began on October 7, much attention has focused on Hezbollah, Hamas’s powerful ally across Israel’s northern border in Lebanon, and its formidable arsenal. The group has so far carried out limited attacks on the border with Israel in recent days.
But Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have also threatened to attack U.S. facilities over American support for Israel.
“Our missiles, drones and special forces are ready to direct qualitative attacks on the American enemy in its bases and disrupt its interests if it intervenes in this fight,” said Ahmad “Abu Hussein” al-Hamidawi, head of Kataib Hezbollah -Militia. said in a statement last Wednesday. He also threatened to fire rockets at Israeli targets.
After Tuesday night’s explosion that killed hundreds of people in a Gaza hospital, the group released another statement blaming the U.S. and its support for Israel for the disaster and calling for an end to the U.S. presence in Iraq demanded. Hamas said the explosion in Gaza was due to an Israeli airstrike, while Israel blamed a misfire on a rocket fired by Palestinian militants.
“These evil people must leave the country. Otherwise, they will taste the fire of hell in this world before the afterlife,” the statement said.
A U.S. defense official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the attack on the al-Asad military base in western Iraq.
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Tashkil al-Waritheen, one of the Iran-backed militias that make up the larger group, claimed responsibility in a statement for a second drone strike that it said targeted al-Harir airbase in northern Iraq. U.S. officials did not immediately comment on the claim of a second attack.
The government of northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region said an intercepted drone crashed in an open area near the village of Batas.
Also on Wednesday, Iran-aligned groups in Iraq announced they had formed a “joint operations room” to help Hamas in its war effort.
Two officials from Iran-backed militias in Iraq, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, confirmed the attacks on the two bases on Wednesday. They said the armed groups were on alert and ready to join the broader fight against Israel, but that Iran had not yet given them permission to open a new front. Leaders of some factions are currently in Lebanon and Syria in case they receive orders to move forward, one of the officials said.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment.
Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Iraqi groups allied with Iran and Hamas are unlikely to open a new front in the war in the short term, but that could change if there is a war between Hamas and Israel are escalating or dragging on.
“Geographically, of course, they are several steps away, so they will not be the first to respond” and will likely play a supporting role, she said.
Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, said Iran-backed groups in Iraq were divided between those that are also political parties and involved in the Iraqi political system, and “vanguard” groups that are purely militant and tend to be more controlled by Iran.
The latter have been used as foot soldiers in regional conflicts in the past, including in Yemen and Syria.
“That’s what they’re designed for,” Mansour said. “The question is more: Will Iran and some of the leaders of these groups decide that it is in their interest to escalate?”
Copp reported from Washington and Abdul-Zahra from Boston. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Salar Salim in Erbil contributed to this report.